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The evolving role of physical retail stores in the fashion industry

Full report: Understanding the retail customer journey for the fashion industry

The evolving role of physical retail stores in the fashion industry

The importance of tangibility and the in-store experience for consumers and retailers in fashion

With the rise of online fashion over the past decade, just how important is the in-store experience for shoppers who want to touch and try on products, and retailers who want to connect with their customers? 

This article looks into this question and forms part of a wider piece of research focussing on the initial stage of the customer journey (stage 1 of 4: Awareness and Research) and covers a selection of issues concerning the importance of the in-store experience here. 

In short, the on-going importance of physical stores is confirmed in our research, with half of all survey respondents suggesting that they would be more loyal to stores that offered a ‘meaningful in-store experience’. 

Being able to touch and try on clothes in a pleasant environment is still important to all age groups. Furthermore, friendly, knowledgeable and helpful staff are not only the best ambassadors for brands, but the most effective way to build loyal customer relationships – especially with older and high net worth age groups.

How accepting are consumers to automated customer services by age?


​​Consumer acceptance of automated customer service in fashion retail

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This work forms part of a wider piece of research and is a downloadable in pdf format


Evolving offerings

While we believe that the store will continue to make the largest contribution to sales for the next five years, its role will evolve from mere product distribution hub to a meaningful customer experience environment offering entertainment and escapism.

“Retailers able to integrate physical and digital realms as seamlessly as possible will hold the competitive advantage, particularly when it comes to high-value purchases”

The human touch

While the physical and digital realms will converge as technological innovation enables personalised in-store services based on personal preferences and taste, retailers must be mindful of their customers’ reluctance to accept technology that replaces human attributes. 

Almost half of respondents surveyed do not want to be helped by a robot or to use a touchscreen device for customer service issues, such as product sizing or queries about the sustainability of products.

One step at a time

Concepts such as virtual fitting rooms, featuring display screens showing a customer’s appearance when ‘wearing’ certain clothes without having to actually get changed, currently appear to be a step too far. 

“There was an overriding preference to touch and try on clothes, with only 13% of those surveyed opting for virtual fitting rooms”

Nevertheless, it is clear that, as the purpose of stores evolve, retailer use of traditional performance metrics such as sales per square foot will become increasingly superseded by new metrics such as ‘experience per m2’. 

Successful retailers will have to provide physical and online platforms that function well over a multitude of
platforms including stores, online, social and others.


The future role of stores

The role of physical stores for successful fashion retailers and brands, looks to be one where a melding of physical and digital is required to excite, simulate and tempt consumers as they become aware of new products and research the market. The customer journey here will evolve rapidly in the future as technology advances and younger consumers come to prominence. So what lies ahead?

Things to do now

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Found this short article interesting?

This research was conducted by Retail Economics in partnership with Pennigtons Manches Cooper and forms part of a wider piece of research that focusses on the initial stage of the retail customer journey for the fashion industry (stage 1 of 4). It unpacks the key themes that influence consumers and retailers here and identifies future trends in this space. Retail Economics supplied the data sets, collected from a consumer survey of over 2,000 nationally representative individuals in Q1 of 2019. 

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